Tag Archives: Robert George

Robert P. George: what is religious liberty? what is conscience?

From the Public Discourse, an article that explains why freedom of religion is a human right. (H/T Chris S.)


In its fullest and most robust sense, religion is the human person’s being in right relation to the divine—the more-than-merely-human source or sources, if there be such, of meaning and value. In the perfect realization of the good of religion, one would achieve the relationship that the divine—say God himself, assuming for a moment the truth of monotheism—wishes us to have with Him.

Of course, different traditions of faith have different views of what constitutes religion in its fullest and most robust sense. There are different doctrines, different scriptures, different ideas of what is true about spiritual things and what it means to be in proper relationship to the more-than-merely-human source or sources of meaning and value that different traditions understand as divinity.

Religious liberty is the ability to use reason and evidence to determine the truth about religion:

For my part, I believe that reason has a very large role to play for each of us in deciding where spiritual truth most robustly is to be found. And by reason here, I mean not only our capacity for practical reasoning and moral judgment, but also our capacities for understanding and evaluating claims of all sorts: logical, historical, scientific, and so forth. But one need not agree with me about this in order to affirm with me that there is a distinct human good of religion—a good that uniquely shapes one’s pursuit of and participation in all the aspects of our flourishing as human beings—and that one begins to realize and participate in this good from the moment one begins the quest to understand the more-than-merely-human sources of meaning and value and to live authentically by ordering one’s life in line with one’s best judgments of the truth in religious matters.

If I am right, then the existential raising of religious questions, the honest identification of answers, and the fulfilling of what one sincerely believes to be one’s duties in the light of those answers are all parts of the human good of religion. But if that is true, then respect for a person’s well-being, or more simply respect for the person, demands respect for his or her flourishing as a seeker of religious truth and as one who lives in line with his or her best judgments of what is true in spiritual matters. And that, in turn, requires respect for everyone’s liberty in the religious quest—the quest to understand religious truth and order one’s life in line with it.

Because faith of any type, including religious faith, cannot be authentic—it cannot be faith—unless it is free, respect for the person—that is to say, respect for his or her dignity as a free and rational creature—requires respect for his or her religious liberty. That is why it makes sense, from the point of view of reason, and not merely from the point of view of the revealed teaching of a particular faith—though many faiths proclaim the right to religious freedom on theological and not merely philosophical grounds—to understand religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Here’s the definition of conscience – it’s not just autonomy to do whatever you want:

Conscience, as Newman understood it, is the very opposite of “autonomy” in the modern sense. It is not a writer of permission slips. It is not in the business of licensing us to do as we please or conferring on us “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Rather, conscience is one’s last best judgment specifying the bearing of moral principles one grasps, yet in no way makes up for oneself, on concrete proposals for action. Conscience identifies our duties under a moral law that we do not ourselves make. It speaks of what one must do and what one must not do. Understood in this way, conscience is, indeed, what Newman said it is: a stern monitor.

Contrast this understanding of conscience with what Newman condemns as its counterfeit. Conscience as “self-will” is a matter of feeling or emotion, not reason. It is concerned not so much with the identification of what one has a duty to do or not do, one’s feelings and desires to the contrary notwithstanding, but rather, and precisely, with sorting out one’s feelings. Conscience as self-will identifies permissions, not obligations. It licenses behavior by establishing that one doesn’t feel bad about doing it, or, at least, one doesn’t feel so bad about doing it that one prefers the alternative of not doing it.

I’m with Newman. His key distinction is between conscience, authentically understood, and self-will—conscience as the permissions department. His core insight is that conscience has rights because it has duties. The right to follow one’s conscience, and the obligation to respect conscience—especially in matters of faith, where the right of conscience takes the form of religious liberty of individuals and communities of faith—obtain not because people as autonomous agents should be able to do as they please; they obtain, and are stringent and sometimes overriding, because people have duties and the obligation to fulfill them. The duty to follow conscience is a duty to do things or refrain from doing things not because one wants to follow one’s duty, but even if one strongly does not want to follow it. The right of conscience is a right to do what one judges oneself to be under an obligation to do, whether one welcomes the obligation or must overcome strong aversion in order to fulfill it. If there is a form of words that sums up the antithesis of Newman’s view of conscience as a stern monitor, it is the imbecilic slogan that will forever stand as a verbal monument to the “Me-generation”: “If it feels good, do it.”

Where are these rights under attack today? Well, in this country we have situations where Christians are being forced to act like atheists in public in order to avoid offending atheists. The view that Christianity is something that should be kept private because it is offensive to atheists is an atheist view. So what this really is then is atheists forcing their atheism on Christians. You can see atheists attack religious liberty today when valedictorians are forced to hid their true beliefs in order to avoid making atheists feel bad. Conscience is under attack in many places, but one of them is the abortion mandate in Obamacare, which requires Christian business owners to provide their employees with drugs that can cause abortions. So there are very real threats to religious liberty and conscience today. If you value religious liberty and conscience rights, then you should oppose expanding the power of any government that is hostile to those rights.

Video of Republican debate at the South Carolina Palmetto Freedom Forum

Michele Bachmann: On the Issues
Michele Bachmann: On the Issues

Here’s the video of Republican debate at the South Carolina Palmetto Freedom Forum! In eight parts. Famous Princeton philosopher Robert George is the moderator.

All 8 parts:

Below is some news coverage for those who don’t have broadband.

Here’s a story from ABC News.


On a day usually marked by end-of-summer barbecues, five presidential candidates came here on Labor Day for a grilling of a different kind.

Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain spent the afternoon in front of a panel of three conservative inquisitors, including Tea Party icon, Sen. Jim DeMint. They peppered each candidate with a detailed series of questions on everything from gay marriage to their view of the 14 Amendment to whether the United States was still the “shining city on a hill” that Ronald Reagan famously envisioned.

And when they weren’t explaining the depth of their commitment to conservative principles, each used Monday’s Palmetto Freedom Forum to take a few swipes at President Obama.

When asked what he would do differently in the area of foreign policy, Romney replied, “A lot. First, I’d have one.”

Gingrich dismissed the jobs speech President Obama plans to deliver this week, predicting that it would be a “collection of minor ideas surrounded by big rhetoric.”

Michele Bachmann said that Obama has failed in his responsibility “to act under the Constitution and not place oneself over the Constitution.”

The candidates did not engage with each other face-to-face as they will two days from now at a debate in California and notably, the current Republican front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a no-show at the forum.  Though Perry took part in another campaign event across the state Monday morning he cancelled on event organizers at the last-minute in order to return to Texas to deal with the wildfires there.

Bloomberg reports on Bachmann’s performance.


Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said President Barack Obama has skirted the U.S. Constitution on several fronts, as she and rivals in the race to challenge him next year courted support from Tea Party activists at a forum yesterday in South Carolina.

Bachmann criticized Obama for the health-care overhaul he helped shepherd into law last year, saying it paves the way for “socialized medicine.” She also attacked his hiring of high- level advisers — sometimes called “czars” — who aren’t vetted by Congress, and his refusal to defend federal marriage and immigration laws, as she billed herself the “constitutional conservative” in the Republican race.

“The current United States government and its framework is acting outside of the bounds of the Constitution,” Bachmann, 55, a Minnesota congresswoman, said at the gathering in the state that holds one of the nomination contest’s earliest primaries.

[…]Bachmann, who helped start a charter school in Minnesota before winning her House seat in 2006, pinpointed education as an area where the federal government has overreached. “The Constitution does not specifically enumerate, nor does it give to the federal government, the role and duty to superintend over education,” she said. “That historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state government.”

And from USA Today.


Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann threw a jab at former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, saying state laws that require residents to obtain health care coverage are unconstitutional — such as the one Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.Romney tried to turn political lemon into lemonade, saying the state health care plan differed in fundamental ways from the federal health care law that followed. The contrast would make the issue “one of my best assets if I’m able to debate President Obama,” Romney said, saying the Bay State version didn’t raise taxes or cut Medicare.

“It’s simply unconstitutional; it’s bad law; it’s bad medicine,” Romney said of the federal version. “It has got to be stopped, and I know it better than most.”

[…]In a speech Tuesday, Romney plans to unveil a 59-point plan, including 10 “concrete actions” he said he would take on his first day in the Oval Office. He endorses several conservative prescriptions: curbing taxes; requiring agencies to cut old regulations to “offset” any new ones; creating “Reagan Economic Zones” with foreign partners to encourage free trade; taking a tougher line against China; cutting spending and passing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; encouraging more oil and gas drilling and nuclear power.

Here’s an article about Mitt Romney’s 10-point plan.

You might remember that I had recommended to Michele Bachmann that she adopt the Canadian prime minister’s strategy of creating 5-point plans and 6-point plans clearly listing her priorities in order to avoid being accused of having a hidden agenda. So far, she hasn’t taken my advice, and her campaign appears to be suffering some difficulties. But Romney seems to have adopted it. I think Mitt Romney is actually a Democrat in Republican clothing, but you have to admire his 10-point plan. I looked it over briefly and it is exactly what I wanted Michele Bachmann to do. Still backing Bachmann, because I don’t trust Romney at all.

UPI has more on Romney’s liberalism.

UPDATE: This Human Events article has more detail on what Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, and Mitt Romney said.

Robert P. George explains why same-sex marriage is morally wrong

Famous Princeton University professor writing in the Wall Street Journal. (H/T ECM)

This is the best single article I’ve read on same-sex marriage.


If marriage is redefined, its connection to organic bodily union—and thus to procreation—will be undermined. It will increasingly be understood as an emotional union for the sake of adult satisfaction that is served by mutually agreeable sexual play. But there is no reason that primarily emotional unions like friendships should be permanent, exclusive, limited to two, or legally regulated at all. Thus, there will remain no principled basis for upholding marital norms like monogamy.

A veneer of sentiment may prevent these norms from collapsing—but only temporarily. The marriage culture, already wounded by widespread divorce, nonmarital cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing will fare no better than it has in those European societies that were in the vanguard of sexual “enlightenment.” And the primary victims of a weakened marriage culture are always children and those in the poorest, most vulnerable sectors of society.

Candid and clear-thinking advocates of redefining marriage recognize that doing so entails abandoning norms such as monogamy. In a 2006 statement entitled “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” over 300 lesbian, gay, and allied activists, educators, lawyers, and community organizers—including Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and prominent Yale, Columbia and Georgetown professors—call for legally recognizing multiple sex partner (“polyamorous”) relationships. Their logic is unassailable once the historic definition of marriage is overthrown.

You know, there’s no law that says that we could not strengthen marriage if we wanted to. Just saying. Children do better when conceived and raised in stable environments with a strong exclusive bond between two opposite-sex parents. Do we care about children’s welfare? If so, then we need strong marriages.